Cleo Battle To Succeed Louisville Tourism President and CEO Karen Williams

January 29, 2021
Cleo Battle To Succeed Louisville Tourism President and CEO Karen Williams

Louisville Tourism is about to get a new president and CEO. Cleo Battle, the CVB’s current chief operating officer, will assume his new role upon the forthcoming retirement of current president and CEO Karen Williams, who will close out her 30-year tenure at Louisville Tourism June 30.  

This is Battle’s second time filling Williams’ shoes. The 34-year hospitality veteran was appointed executive vice president in 2013 before being named COO in 2019. 

Prior to coming to Louisville, Battle spent 12 years as vice president of sales and services for the Richmond Convention & Visitors Bureau in Virginia, where he also served as its director of sales and sales manager. A Denver native, he began his hospitality career in the hotel industry working for Embassy Suites, Holiday Inn and Sheraton Hotels.  

A graduate of Metropolitan State College with a degree in Hotel/Restaurant Management, Battle earned his Masters of Business Administration in 1997 from Averett College in Virginia. He is both a Certified Destination Management Executive and Certified Association Sales Executive.  

"I am most looking forward to implementing our recently launched Destination Strategic Plan and helping get Louisville’s once-thriving convention business into a recovery and full rebound state," Battle said.

Karen Williams Louisville

Williams began her 40-year hospitality career as a sales manager at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Atlanta. After opening 18 hotels worldwide, she returned to her native Louisville, where she served 23 years at what was then the Louisville Convention & Visitors Bureau, retiring as executive vice president in 2012 and returning as CEO in 2014

Under her leadership, the Bourbon City evolved into a prominent events destination attracting highly sought-after conventions and tourism, with the city experiencing record visitation growth prior to the pandemic, according to Louisville Tourism Board Chair Donald Lassere. 

“Working side by side with Karen for eight years, we know Cleo has the right combination of experience, leadership and vision to help our community maximize our opportunities as destinations like ours move into a recovery and rebound phase,” Lassere said.

Williams was also instrumental in working with the city, state and tourism stakeholders to finance and support the renovation of the Kentucky International Convention Center. The facility has helped position Louisville well in a competitive market and will help the destination rebound once events and tourism return post-pandemic, said Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer. 

“It would be impossible to overstate Karen Williams’ impact on the record tourism growth that Louisville has seen in recent years, with a pre-pandemic peak of 19 million visitors in 2019,” Mayor Fischer said. “Beyond being one of our community’s most optimistic, dynamic cheerleaders, Karen brought incredible skills, experience and sense of collaboration to the job.”

Williams has served on the boards of Leadership Louisville, MPI, Destinations  International and as APEX Commissioner with the Convention Industry Council. She also served as chair for the Destination & Travel Foundation, a charitable organization dedicated to serving the interest of destination marketing professionals and highlighting the impact of travel around the world. 

In recognition of the diverse achievements and longevity of her hospitality career, Williams received the Dan Mangeot award in 2012, which is awarded to an individual who has greatly contributed to Louisville’s tourism initiatives.

Fischer added: “I will miss Karen for so many reasons, but I am confident in her board, the nationally recognized team they have built — and in her successor, Cleo Battle, who has worked alongside Karen for several years. I appreciate Karen staying until summer to help ensure a smooth transition and I wish her much rest — and travel — in retirement!”

Add new comment

Partner Voices
HERE, hosting responsible meetings and caring for our communities are top priorities. Through its 'Focused on What Matters: Embracing Humanity and Protecting the Planet' philosophy, MGM Resorts commits to creating a more sustainable future, while striving to make an impact in the lives of employees, guests, and the communities in which it operates. Water Stewardship Efforts MGM Resorts understands the importance of using water efficiently, especially in the desert destination of Las Vegas. Conserving water has always been part of the mission, but MGM Resorts has expanded its ambition into water stewardship. In 2022, MGM Resorts President and CEO Bill Hornbuckle signed the CEO Water Mandate—a UN Global Compact initiative mobilizing business leaders to advance water stewardship. MGM Resorts International was the first gaming company to take this important step. MGM Resorts replaced 200,000 square feet of real grass with drought-tolerant landscaping in Las Vegas. MGM Resorts pledges to reduce water withdrawal intensity by 33% by 2025 and by 35% by 2030. From 2007-2021, use of more than 5.6 billion gallons of water was avoided because of conservation efforts. Caring for One Another MGM Resorts’ Food Donations Program collects and preserves unserved food from conventions held at MGM Resorts properties, then safely donates to food insecure people in the community. Since the program’s launch in 2016, more than 3.7 million meals toward a 2025 goal of 5 million meals have been donated into the community. Donations include: Unserved perishable prepared foods from events Perishable unprepared food from MGM Resorts’ kitchens Nonperishable food items from minibars and warehouses The collaboration with Southern Nevada’s primary food bank, Three Square, has developed the infrastructure needed to safely collect, transport, and store food from MGM Resorts properties in Las Vegas, reducing food waste while serving the community. Fostering Diversity and Inclusion To MGM Resorts, a diverse and talented workforce is essential to success. By cultivating innovative strategies that consider multiple perspectives and viewpoints, the company creates an inclusive workplace culture that benefits its employees and community. MGM Resorts takes pride in being a welcoming home for veterans, individuals with disabilities, people from diverse backgrounds, LGBTQ+ community members, and more. This commitment to inclusion is reflected in the company's recruitment and hiring practices and its social responsibility initiatives. From the workplace to the community, MGM Resorts' commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion remains unwavering, and its efforts continue to create a more equitable and sustainable world for all. MGM Resorts understands its responsibility to contribute to the social and economic progress of the communities in which it operates. HERE, we embrace humanity.